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Amidst the ongoing discussions of the results of the presidential election, a group of researchers has come up to disapprove of blockchain voting as an alternative for trusted democratic elections.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (MIT) researchers published a report on November 16 cautioning against reliance on blockchain voting technology as a way of promoting greater turnout in an election. According to them, using the system would not improve the integrity of voting but instead increase the risk of hackers tampering with the way elections are carried out.
Sunoo Park, Neha Narula, Ronald L. Rivest and Michael Specter, the institution’s cybersecurity team, asserted that it is highly unlikely that political elections would rely on blockchain for the foreseeable future. According to them, voting in person, mail-in ballots, and other software-independent methods are more reliable and, therefore, would stay for a long time. Potential lack of ballot secrecy – due to blockchain’s traceable nature – and inability to audit in case the race is contested are some of the concerns the researchers emphasized.
Researchers Suggest that Blockchain Can Compromise Elections
Rivest, an MIT professor, who was the report’s senior author, explained that the risk of nation-scale election failures being undetectable would greatly increase with blockchain replacing the current election systems. Meaningful assurance that votes were counted at the time they were cast would dwindle with the increase in turnout.
“I haven’t yet seen a blockchain system that I would trust with a county-fair jellybean count, much less a presidential election,” the researcher continued to distrust blockchain voting.
The use of blockchain technology in a democratic voting process differs from the use in financial transactions in that financial institutions usually compensate victims using various ways in the latter when losses occur due to fraud or hacks. If they are crypto exchanges, tokens would be frozen, and if they are credit card companies, funds would be reimbursed after the hack, according to the teams’ argument. Once an election is compromised due to the failure of democracy, there is no reassurance that voters will be made whole again.
The MIT team also explained that blockchain-based voting is vulnerable to “serious failures.” Physical access is necessary for one to destroy a mail-in ballot, but hackers can just use a single point of attack to remove or alter millions of votes with a blockchain-based voting system. Therefore, authorities would be forced to hold an entirely new election if the results are unreliable when hackers attack votes.
Blockchain Voting Was Deployed despite Its Vulnerability
A couple of countries are trying to integrate blockchain technology into their voting process bring about various challenges. For instance, users and third parties were able to decipher votes during Vladimir Putin’s term limit before the official count started in Russia’s blockchain-based voting system, thereby compromising ballot secrecy.
Researcher Michael Specter, in a different MIT team, in February, found out that Voatz, a blockchain-based voting app, had various security vulnerabilities. In spite of that, the Republican and Democratic parties went ahead to use the app for voting at their conventions this year.
Rivest supported the deployment emphasizing:
“Democracy – and the consent of the governed – cannot be made contingent on whether some software correctly recorded voters’ choices.”
Due to social isolation caused by the pandemic, many American voters chose to vote by mail. As a result, intense debates have been triggered concerning the current American electoral system’s legitimacy and veracity. Some are proposing a proposed “mobile” voting based on blockchain as a way to ease elections.